A little more than 20 years ago, Centennial Lane in Ellicott City was merely a connecting road between U.S.40 and Route 108. The narrow road passed through farmland, pastures and meadows. Today, Centennial Lane is the main thoroughfare that goes through some of Howard County's most popular communities.
During the past two decades, the road has been widened, and curving streets branch off, leading to dozens of quiet cul-de-sacs. Hundreds of homes have been built in several subdivisions. Two large parks with walking trails and other amenities have been created. Several shopping centers have opened nearby.
The reasons people have moved here -- and stay here -- boil down to two words: education and location.
Three of the county's best schools -- Centennial Lane Elementary, Burleigh Manor Middle and Centennial High -- are in a system that ranks near the top in the nation and are on Centennial Lane.
The location provides easy access to highways for convenient commutes to Baltimore, Washington and nearby counties. And it's just a short drive to the hub of Howard County -- Columbia.
No wonder homebuyers from other areas are lured there, creating a demand that exceeds the supply of available residences. Chuck and Betty Visconage moved to the area from Cockeysville in 1988 to be closer to his office in Columbia. He now works in downtown Baltimore and frequently travels to Rockville and Frederick.
When they moved, the Visconages' first child, Andrew, was 2. "We weren't thinking about schools," said Betty Visconage, who also works in Baltimore, "but we really lucked out."
Their other children, Matthew, 10, and Marie, 5, walk to Centennial Lane Elementary. Andrew, now 13, takes the bus to Burleigh Manor Middle, farther south on Centennial Lane. The children will attend Centennial High.
"A lot of people talk about the schools as a drawing card," said Betty Visconage, adding that many people stay in the area because of the schools. She knows of several families that have moved to the area to get a larger home or one with more features, but one that is within the same school districts.
Lynn and Todd Bowman, neighbors of the Visconages, moved from Baltimore in 1998 for one reason: the schools.
"We heard about them, we read about them and looked on some Web sites," said Lynn Bowman. Their daughter Emily is 3 1/2 years old, and they have taken her to the elementary school's playground.
Lynn Bowman also likes the lack of congestion in the area and the community ambience.
"We feel more comfortable here after one year than we did in nine years at our old house," she said.
Reputation for excellence
Ann Whelan, an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., agrees the schools are a major reason people move to the area.
"Centennial High School, Burleigh Manor Middle School and Centennial Lane Elementary School all have a reputation for excellence," she said.
Whelan said that the competition for homes in the area is intense and that when a home goes on the market, it usually receives multiple contracts with offers above the list price and is sold within a week.
Most of the area's homes range in cost from $300,000 to almost $500,000. They are two-story, four-bedroom colonials that sit on a quarter- to half-acre.
A few ranchers and duplexes have been sold for less than $200,000, and in a luxury subdivision called The Preserve, homes on 3-acre lots sell from $700,000 to more than $2 million.
East side, west side
Most of the houses range in age from 5 to 20 years old. There are some older houses, mostly on the east side of Centennial Lane in the Font Hill section.
On the west side sits the old Burleigh Manor estate, which used to include more than 600 acres. The home remains, but much of the land has been developed as the Burleigh Manor subdivision.
With one of the county's largest parks at the southern end of Centennial Lane, recreation and family activities are only a short drive, or walk, away. Amenities in Centennial Park include a three-mile walking path around its lake, tennis courts, ball fields, tot lots, picnic pavilions, paddleboats and a snack bar.
The Howard County Parks and Recreation Department holds many programs there, including a summer concert series.
To the northeast is Font Hill Wetlands Park, a favorite site for school field trips. It is a quiet park with walking trails and benches that afford views of the ponds and the life around the water.
ZIP code: 21042
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 40 minutes
Public schools: Centennial Lane Elementary, Burleigh Manor Middle, Centennial High
Shopping: Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, Route 40 stores, Dorsey's Search Village Center, The Mall in Columbia
Points of interest: Centennial Park, Font Hill Wetlands Park
Homes on market: 13
Average listing price: $346,242 *
Average sales price: $340,025 *
Days on market: 8
Sales price as percentage of listing price: 98.2% *
* Based on 68 sales in the past 12 months compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.